A Brisbane-based artist is setting a Melbourne institution a-sparkle during Melbourne Fashion Week. In partnership with ACMI, we speak to self-confessed tinsel maven, Rachel Burke.
The first item of clothing Rachel Burke ever made from tinsel was a jacket. It wasn't just any jacket. The garment was for Patience Hodgson, the outlandish lead singer of Brisbane band The Grates, to wear on stage at Splendour in the Grass, 2015.
Made to Last: a compendium of artisans, trades and projects is my first book. Published by Hardie Grant in November 2017, it features 50 artisans from all around the world who are making useful, heirloom quality objects that will stand the test of time.
It was a partnership with a Singaporean bank that brightened life in Myanmar for local families – forever.
Sandar Win, a business woman in Mawlamyine township in Myanmar’s Mon State, warmly invites us into her living room where her husband, mother and a young girl sit on the floor, smiling as we enter.
Research into early detection is helping children thrive.
Up to two per cent of the population is diagnosed with autism and researchers are continually working to uncover new insights and solutions to understand the autism spectrum. But what if the solutions were to encourage children with autism to really thrive in life?
Finding an alternative to phosphate fertilisers now so we don't face a global food shortage in the future.
Plant a seed, give it plentiful amounts of water and sunlight, and watch it grow. That’s all it needs, isn’t it? Not quite. Many plants, particularly high-yield food crops like rice and wheat also need phosphate-rich soil to flourish.
Halting the advance of a muscle wasting condition called cachexia could improve quality of life for cancer sufferers.
For many years, oncologists and researchers thought the dramatic weight-loss of cancer patients was due to the cancer spreading through and consuming the body, with the loss of appetite and nutritional complications causing the body to waste away. But in fact, it’s cachexia, a severe weight loss and muscle wasting disease often devastatingly present in cancer’s later stages.
Questioning why conflict resolution processes fail can help make effective peace.
“After civil war comes conflict resolution processes and peace agreements. But they often fail to establish lasting and sustainable peace, and violence breaks out again. How can we help fractured societies to make more effective peace?”
The classic division between in and out of doors falls away in this tranquil north-facing dwelling, where the owners' twin love for Japanese aestheticism and 1950s modernism led the design.
Once a nondescript single-storey yellow brick house, today the new build that straddles this property in a quiet heritage pocket of Melbourne's vibrant inner north has both the grandeur and reclusive hush of a Japanese mountain retreat.
As I write, I'm having my third session at Melbourne's newest co-working space, Happy Hubbub. It has all the things you might expect from a shared entrepreneurial space: large tables for hot-deskers, loads of power points, wi-fi, meeting rooms, and copious amounts of coffee. But, in a first for Australia, it also has a dedicated short daycare space attached.
Vanessa Murray has always been a feminist. So why does she feel like she’s betraying the sisterhood by happily doing the dishes, vacuuming, sweeping, mopping, copious amounts of laundry, occasional ironing and even dusting?
I’ve always been a tidy person. Clean, too. The two go together – after all, it’s hard to keep a place clean if it’s untidy, and it’s hard to keep a place tidy if it’s unclean. A sparkling kitchen makes me feel happy; a newly vacuumed floor as though I’ve got everything under control. When I dust (my least favourite chore) I feel like Mother Theresa.
At a British science conference in 1987, a palaeontologist named Dr Bev Halstead's invited a woman on stage and politely asked her to drop her skirt.
A tense, collective breath echoed around the auditorium as the garment hit the ground. Halstead had a reputation as an eccentric, but, even for him the stunt seemed uncouth. What on earth was he up to?
Book, publisher: Hardie Grant Explore
Slow down. Simplify. Let go. 365 Nature does just this. It's your entry into a world that spins slowly and draws its inspiration from the earth, the ocean, the sun and the sky. Each turn of the page through spring, summer, autumn and winter will lead to a new discovery and a new project to help you weave nature and creativity through your everyday life.
Book, publisher: Hardie Grant Explore
Get ready for the weekend with Friday, Saturday, Sunday: 52 Perfect Weekends in Australia, a curated guide to the best weekend getaways you can have anywhere in Australia. Written by checked in and clued up travel writers, this brand new travel guide from Explore Australia will show you how to have the best time at the best destinations in Australia, from Melbourne to Margaret River, the Barossa to Brisbane, with itineraries written for 52 weekends - one for every weekend of the year!
The pair who built the opposite of a McMansion. Cheap, ethical and cosy - a couple embrace their 'tiny' house.
Andrew Bell was already living in a tent near Bendigo in a bid to simplify his life when his partner Alicia Crawford suggested they build a tiny together. A tiny? A tiny house; in this case, one measuring just 18 square metres, though technically speaking anything that comes in under 37 square metres qualifies as a tiny.
Finding fun in south-east Australia's Victoria certainly isn't difficult. Just head uphill.
Fittingly, in Victoria’s High Country, the higher you go, the better the views get. Start down low and you’ve got valleys and fields flush with wildflowers, rustic old farm buildings and row upon row of grapevines. A little higher up, you can add tumbling rivers and majestic lakes. Higher again, and it’s winding roads, undulating hills, and sweeping sky-scapes making it into the mix. Oh, and mountains. Did we mention the mountains?
The gardens of most rental properties are sorely in need of love – but not the one out the back of a red clinker brick house in Seddon, in Melbourne’s inner west.
It’s the home of Travis Blandford and Harriet Devlin of artisan tool making business Grafa, whose range includes six aesthetically pleasing and practical gardening tools made from copper, bronze and wood. Of course, the pair work the soil with tools they make themselves, and you have to wonder if this is behind the garden’s rich, loamy soil and bumper crop.
It's been clogging up our recycling bins for years, but now some architects are touting cardboard as the building material of the future.
When Tobias Horrocks was 12 years old, his parents gave him a book about how to fold paper aeroplanes.
It made a big impression.
He spent hours trying out different designs and seeing which ones flew best. But his new interest landed him in hot water: he got kicked out of a shopping centre for perfectly landing one of his creations in somebody’s coffee – from six floors up.
Savvy and sustainable design solutions transform a compact 1970s townhouse in Prahran, Melbourne, into an expansive, light-filled home imbued with a subtle nod to mid-century style.
The modernist makeover of Wrights Terrace is the work of Thomas Winwood McKenzie, Principal at Thomas Winwood Architecture, who ably met his clients’ vision for a calm, light-filled space with creative thinking and refined detailing.
McKenzie took the modernist character of the existing building as his starting point, drawing this out with new features like timber batten ceilings, box frame windows and a stunning brass handrail on an exposed staircase. The refurbished interior feels uncluttered and spacious. McKenzie achieved this by implementing some savvy design solutions and creating an additional 21 square metres for the floor plan.
It’s not every architectural practice that seeks to go above and beyond the energy efficiency-focused requirements of the Building Code of Australia (BCA)’s Section J. Techn─ô Architecture + Interior Design make a point of it.
“We’re always looking for additional ways to enhance the quality and internal climate of a space. It’s a key part of our overall consideration, from concept to completion,” says one of Techn─ô’s two directors, Nick Travers.
Travers and fellow Director Justin Northrop lead a 26-strong team of architects, draftspeople and interior designers to seek longevity and robustness in design. This shows in their choice of materials – hardwearing ones like steel and timber. Only recycled or renewable timbers, mind you, and of the latter, only Australian hardwoods pass muster.
Performer Amanda Palmer talks about life on the road, the art of asking and her penchant for clunky old bikes
Talking with Amanda Palmer, you get the feeling that she falls a little bit in love a lot – bikes included.
She learned to ride in the early eighties in ride in a suburb of Boston, Massachusetts on a “typical suburban tricycle”, then a two-wheeler with training wheels.
But the first bike she really fell for was a white BMX. It came the toy store in the mall, and it rocked her fourth grader world.
It’s common for cafes and restaurants to have their own kitchen gardens and produce seasonal herbs and vegetables to feature on the menu. But at East Elevation in East Brunswick, the concept has been taken to a whole new level.
Shiitake, and blue and pink King Oyster mushrooms grow on logs. They unfurl in dark, moist bags, and fruit in jars. Microgreens – tiny delicate greens that are sprouted from germinated seeds, and consumed in their entirety – in various stages of sprouting green up the space, and passionfruit vines curl and weave through the exposed trusses.
The gabled roof space above the kitchen has been turned into a mushroom- and microgreens-producing greenhouse. Its unique bounty is for adornment, rather than menu staples, and often features at East Elevation’s presentation nights. Customers can also buy microgreens to take home.
What does a sexologist do, exactly?
I was inspired to ask this after seeing this post from Melbourne-based sexologist Olivia Bryant of Tell Me Darling:
“You know you're an obsessive sex nerd when you ask your partner to stroke 15 circles clockwise, followed by a microsecond pause, begin again until the timer goes off and then you take notes.”
Bryant, of Melbourne, has dedicated her life to helping women to realise their sexual potential. She’s one of a growing number of sexologists offering to help people lift their game. Or find their game. Or simply have more fun playing.
Grown and Gathered is nourishing fruits, vegetables, flowers, herbs – and community – with a novel approach to growing for supply.
There’s an acre of well-drained land sitting plum in the middle of the stately Tahbilk Vineyard, some 200 kilometres northeast of Melbourne, that is producing more than 500 varieties of fruits, vegetables, cut and edible flowers. Soon it will start to yield grains like corn, rye and oats too – and all without bringing any new inputs onto their farm.
This is what’s called a closed loop farming system, and it’s the all of Matt and Lentil Purbrick, and a border collie named Pepper. The couple have spent the past few years forging a multifaceted living from the things they hold dear: growing and gathering, being sustainable and building community.
A Greek restaurant balances traditional family dining and personal history with the best of modern cuisine in Melbourne, Australia
Ah, Melbourne. It’s long been the go-to city for generations of immigrants seeking – either by choice or circumstance – a new place to call home, and now the city, which is Australia’s second-largest, has a reputation as its most culturally diverse.
Greeks have been gravitating towards Melbourne, nestled in the southeastern corner of Australia, ever since the gold rush of the 1850s. The Greek Orthodox Community was formally founded in 1897, and the first Greek language newspaper, Australis, was issued in 1913.
We've noticed a diverse range of grassroots bike events springing up around Australia over the past few years, and they're going off. Vanessa Murray picks the brains of three organisers to see how they make it tick.
“Being an organiser definitely detracts from being able to get fully involved. It takes a lot of enthusiasm, time and commitment. But it’s totally worth it,“ says Andrew Blake, one of five committee members of Melbourne’s Dirty Deeds Cyclocross.
A no holds barred bike race that pits contestants as much against nature as against each other, Dirty Deeds seeds road riders take to the tundra (and the sand, pavement, trails, hills and mud) in short, intense, circuits.
We are all naked under our clothes, yes indeed. But me oh my, I've noticed lately that whenever there is a body of water bigger than a bath tub to hand, I'm wont to rip off my clothes and make my way in, quick smart.
Combine said water with a hint of sunshine and a conducive atmosphere – an isolated beach, a crocodile free river or a champagne-filled jacuzzi (especially a champagne-filled jacuzzi) – and there's not a man, woman or chastity device that can keep my kit on.
Christmas is coming. I can tell, because my local council has strung twinkly lights from lampposts on the High Street. Store windows are festooned with tempting trinkets, candy canes and the occasional, vertiginous smattering of fake snow, and a selection of headache-inducing festive tunes are on rotation at the supermarket.
When I was a kid, this sort of carry on filled me with so much excitement I could barely sleep. I fantasised about what Santa might bring me for weeks on end – and my parents made the most of my enthusiasm, reinforcing Santa’s preference for well-behaved children for all it was worth.
Five years ago, Rohan Anderson was feeling guilty. Guilty about the impact his lifestyle was having on the earth, about his silent acquiescence to the state of the modern food industry, and about feeding his daughters crap food.
“I used to feed my kids chicken nuggets. And I knew they were full of crap. If you knew what was in those things, you wouldn’t eat them! “
So he made some changes. Big ones. He stopped shopping at the supermarket. He quit his job. He moved out of the city. He planted a garden, and started growing, gathering, hunting and cooking seasonally, out the back of Ballarat in north-western Victoria. And he began charting it all in a blog, wholelarderlove.com.
Panties! There, I’ve said it. Just. Fucking. Awful. I recently shared my hatred of the word on my social networks, and it turns out the majority of the women I know dislike the term, too. In combination with other words – moist, ripped or soiled all come to mind – we’re likely to throw up in our mouths.
It fits into a rising phenomenon in the world of psycholinguistics: word aversion. A concept that has garnered increasing attention over the past decade or so, the term has been defined by University of Pennsylvania linguistics professor Mark Liberman as “a feeling of intense, irrational distaste for the sound or sight of a particular word or phrase, not because its use is regarded as etymologically or logically or grammatically wrong…but simply because the word itself somehow feels unpleasant.”
8.30: We take in a traditional Turkish breakfast on the rooftop balcony of the Deniz Konak Hotel. From here, we have a view out over the tumbling rooftops of the ancient, tourist-friendly heart of the old city, Sultanahmet, to the Black Sea beyond. Breakfast is hearty and delicious: a cheesy potato dish called kremali patates, hard boiled eggs sprinkled with flaked red pepper, peppermint and thyme, meats, sliced cucumber and tomato, bread and butter dripping with honey and hot, sweet tea.
9.30: The autumn sun is shining, so we head out to explore the tourist-friendly heart of this ancient city, which is perfect for follow-your-nose wandering. We head in a northerly direction up narrow, winding, cobble-stoned streets, stopping to take in the grandeur of Hagia Sophia and the Blue Mosque, which sit opposite each other and are the jewels in Istanbul’s historical crown. A little further on and we are in the leafy, well kept grounds of the Topkapi Palace complex, a vast compound that was once the primary residence of the Ottoman Sultans for 400 years of their 624-year reign.
An innovative social enterprise and small business incubator is pointing bike culture in Brisbane in a delicious new direction.
When architect and design educator Helen Bird heard that the Gold Coast is set to host the 2018 Commonwealth Games, it got her thinking. About how the city – Australia’s sixth largest – will manage the descent of thousands of spectators on its beachfront and hinterland, about how it will move them around. About how it will feed them, and how to present Australia’s burgeoning multiculturalism.
Inspired by Asian, South American and North European hawker-style street food and bike culture, she came up with the concept of a kind of pop-up, bicycle-powered, mobile kitchen infrastructure that can be mobilised in line with local development, not just during but also after the Games.
At its simplest, open data is information that is available for anyone to use, for any purpose, at no cost. It’s propelling our researchers towards a future where openly shared data can be mined for trends and patterns that result in discoveries beyond the capability of a single researcher or team.
The Federal Government’s Super Science Initiative is investing millions of dollars in building world-leading data storage and collaboration infrastructure initiatives, but while it’s one thing to share observations of the southern oceans or climate data, it’s quite another to share an individual’s personal and health information.
Every Tuesday and Friday for the past century, Maybachufer Strasse, a pretty, tree-lined street running alongside the Landwehrkanal (Landwehr Canal) in Neukölln, has been coming alive with the hustle and bustle of Berlin's biggest Turkish market, the Türkenmarkt.
Locals of native German and Turkish origin alike haggle over freshly made breads and cheeses, dips and dolma, produce, fish and meat, and goods imported direct from Turkey: jams, yoghurts, spices, coffee, and more.
There's no need to wait until you get home to indulge: many of the munchies on display – like the wares at Hüseyin Ayvaz’s stall – are Turkish snack foods, designed to be eaten on the move. Hüseyin does a roaring trade in various types of dolma, or stuffed vegetables, börek pastries layered with spinach and tulum, a soft white cheese, and the house specialty, gözleme, an oven-baked, soft flatbread baked in a sa─Ź – a large, bell-shaped metal dish covered with ashes and live coals – that his niece, 20-year-old Gökçe Agezo─člu, deftly fills with cheese, tomato and rocket then rolls for easy handling and eating.
October 28, 2012
Joni Mitchell had it right; you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone. I’ve been experiencing this visceral if somewhat clichéd truth lately, as I deal with the sudden loss of a loved one who was there one moment, and not there the next; quite literally vanished into thin air.
If I’d known then what I know now, I’d have done things differently. I’d have made sure we spent more time together. I’d have been kinder. I wouldn’t have sworn at her in public, or kicked her when things didn’t go my way. I wouldn’t have left her out in the rain while I dashed into shops, or neglected her basic needs, or failed to take her for her annual checkup.
It’s been a busy couple of days, explains Kaye Howells, a slow walking, slow speaking woman in trackie-daks and glasses. As we – me, Kaye and a salivating bloke – unload crate after crate from the back of her freshly washed ute, a sweet, buttery aroma drifts up and hits me, right in the olfactories.
Now, don’t get the wrong idea. It’s not me the blokes are salivating over, or Kaye. It’s the baker’s dozen of cakes we’re hefting into the brand new community sports stadium in Bunyip, a one-street, two-pub town lurking 80 kilometres east of Melbourne in the wake of the Princes Highway, like the mythological Aboriginal swamp creature the town is named for.
It’s not a big birthday bash, or a christening, or even an overly indulgent afternoon tea Kaye has been preparing for. It’s a competition: the Country Women’s Association’s (CWA) cookery competition at the Bunyip Agricultural Show.
Yoga is a wonderful thing, but it can sometimes take itself a little too seriously for my liking. Namaste* this and happy smiling face that … Just last week I had my head so far up my own asana*, I had trouble seeing the free-range wood from the hand-reared trees.
Finding a class to keep me on my yoga-loving toes is no easy task – but breathe deeply, yogis! I’ve found a class that will get your chakras* humming, and it’s taught by a yogi with her feet firmly planted in the modern world: Melbourne’s very own Jo Stewart. She bends, she blogs, she downward dogs*!
It’s not every day you see two sportsmen tucking in to a friendly pub lunch together just hours before they’re due to battle it out for a prize pot worth $70,000 and a place in the final at one of their sport’s newest and most important ranking events. But that’s exactly what two professional English snooker players, Mark Davis and Barry ‘The Hawk’ Hawkins, did one rainy day in July just gone in Bendigo, Victoria, at the Australian Snooker Goldfields Open.
This is the second year running that the historic gold rush town, located just 150 kilometres north-west of Melbourne, has hosted the Goldfields Open. Last year it was Englishman Stuart Bingham who took the trophy, and this year?
Marcus Veerman was in Chiang Dao, Thailand, looking around for something to do; something important, when the principal of a local organization, Makhampom, thatcommunicates and educates on issues like AIDS prevention through the medium of theatre, asked if he’d build them a playground. Veerman came up with a design comprising two see-saws, two swings, ad slide and a two-storey icosahedron cubby house thatched with leaves.
“All the materials were sourced from local shops,” says Veerman. “It cost around $600. It was a great looking project, but it’s pretty simple compared to the way we do things now.”
“Buda is like a garden, Pest is like a factory,” say the locals in Budapest, capital of Hungary. The pretty central European city is loved for its crumbling post-Communist grandeur, folksy culture and pocket-friendly prices. Yet, partying here in the non-political sense is a relatively new concept – from 1949 to 1989 the country was part of the Eastern Bloc and uncontrolled gatherings were forbidden. Now, the new generation of Hungarians, or Magyars, live it up like lab rats on caffeine, with an art-infused nightlife that’s possible to see any day or night of the week.
July 14th 2012
Pozdrav! Jesi li gladan? "Hello! Are you hungry?" shout smiling, bald-headed men who wouldn't look out of place on the door of a nightclub. Despite the smell of spit-roasting pork in my nostrils and their no-nonsense appearance, I'm too busy getting my bearings in the small, vibrant town of Guca (pronounced goo-cha) in Serbia's Dragacevo district to think about food - yet.
It's early, and the stallholders are still setting up. They hang opanci - traditional folk shoes - and T-shirts, and arrange sajkaca (military hats) and beer mugs as bunting in the blue, white and red of the Serbian flag flutters overhead.
Last year was a big year for protesting. Dictatorships fell with dramatic intensity in Egypt, Libya, Tunisia and Yemen. In Russia, a disgruntled public railed against brazenly rigged parliamentary elections, while Occupiers in more than 82 countries pitched tents against rampant greed in the financial sector.
They’re the public face of protest, but you want to know where the real kick-arse, politician-engaging, change-making protest is at? Look to the folk operating behind the scenes to coordinate mass, online-based action: the armchair activists, clicktivists or, in their more extreme form, hacktivists. They’re not just the future of public protest; they already are public protest.
Second quarter 2012
The Social Studio in Melbourne uses upcycled fashion as a vehicle for social change
November, 2009. A small shop opens its doors on Smith Street in Collingwood, Melbourne. It looks like any other inner north-eastern fashion store; men’s and women’s clothing hangs in elegant folds from racks. Music spills from speakers, and there’s a tiny cafe serving coffee and handmade food.
But it’s a little different. The clothes are designed and made on site from excess manufacturing materials sourced locally, for a start. The food is mostly African, and it’s not a business as such, but a non-profit social enterprise called The Social Studio that uses up-cycled fashion to prepare former refugees for careers in fashion, retail and hospitality. They’re here now, young people from countries like Eritrea, Afghanistan, Somalia and Sudan, cutting and folding and sewing their visions into reality.
Second quarter 2012
When I was teenager, my mother sat me down and tried to teach me to mend. But I was about as interested in learning how to darn the hole in my jumper as I was in joining a sports team, or understanding advanced mathematics, or crossing the road properly: zilch.
It’s a skill her mother taught her and her mother before her, back through the branches of my family tree to a time before people even wore clothes. Back then, beyond the practicality of its verbal status, mending didn’t have a name. It was just the thing that was done to sustain the life of a garment, out of the necessity, desire and common-sensibility to get the most out of the least. But now, mending is an element of ‘Slow Fashion’, one of a clutch of movements in the art of slow – food, architecture, design, living – wending their way through Western consciousness.
Catalonia, Spain, September 2011. The morning breaks quietly, the sun rising from the Mediterranean like a god and slowly heating the sprawling metropolis; at noon the sun is almost painfully bright. By evening, though, it has cooled to comfortable temperature – a relief, as our tickets are for the sol side of the Plaza de Toros Monumental de Barcelona: the Monumental Bull Ring of Barcelona.
We arrive early, unsure what to expect. Four oval domes tiled in white and blue sit sentinel on the Monumental's upper perimeter, watching over thousands of well-dressed ticket holders milling about: politicians, personalities from the Catalan bourgeoisie, and lifelong fans who can't believe this day had come.
The Black Rock Desert in Nevada is too hot to sustain plant or animal life. There is nothing here; just a dry and cracked desert floor extending for miles in every direction and the sky, an electric-blue dome arching far overhead. The atmosphere is filled with an unearthly quiet; I could be on Mars.
Then out of leftfield comes a giant, iridescent-green chameleon shimmering in the relentless desert heat. I blink, but this is no mirage. As it slides closer, I realise it’s an aluminium-framed, LED-lit amphibious art car being propelled by four pedal-pushing people.
Of course. Of course it is, and to be honest I’m a little lost out here, so I wheel my bike around and tail the lizard – official name Cyclameleon – over bumpy alkaline terrain back towards Base Camp. But a few hundred metres in I’m distracted, again, by a phone box emblazoned with the words ‘Talk to God’. I pull over thinking, why not?
Heady aromas draw me in as I approach Gewürzhaus, a European-style spice store that opened on Melbourne’s iconic Lygon Street in June 2010. The closer I get, the stronger the musky medley of aromas becomes: the piquant tanginess of Asia; the citrusy zest of Morocco; the rich earthiness of Europe.
Owned and managed by 28-year-old Eva Konecsny and her 29-year-old sister Maria, Gewürzhaus has an exotic market feel. Large, airtight barrels containing more than 300 spices, sugars and salts from every region of the world line the walls, along with a selection of customised chocolates, cute kitchen aprons and stylish kitchen wares you didn’t know you were missing, but will probably have to have.
There are few stretches as treacherous as the 630 nautical miles between Sydney and Hobart, Tasmania that are raced every year on Dec. 26. Gale-force storms known as “southerly busters” hurtle through the Bass Strait making the sea choppy and challenging. In 1998, six sailors lost their lives. Six years later, only 59 of the 116 starters completed their journey.
"The competition is very close and very competitive,” says Jessica Watson. “On top of the competition, the race is infamous for its challenging weather conditions. It’s going to be tough, and it could be dangerous, but we’re doing it because we want a challenge. We know what we’re taking on."
Coming as they do from an 18-year-old skippering the youngest-ever crew to compete in the 66-year-old race, those words might be mistaken for youthful hubris. Of course, Jessica Watson is no normal youth.
Flakes of snow fall in lilting drifts around our heads and pile gently on the cobble-stoned streets while the sweet scent of candied fruits mingles with the rich, nutty smell of roasted chestnuts and the heady spiciness of hot glühwein, or mulled wine. We're loitering with intent at the towering, gothic-style City Hall in the Austrian capital of Vienna, where the atmospheric, open-air Christkindlmarkts (Christmas markets), have been in full swing since mid November.
Despite the subzero temperatures and an average of just two hours of sunshine per day at this time of year, they've been a must-do during the festive season as far back as the Middle Ages. Locals come here to socialise, enjoy the festively adorned trees and fairytale displays, shop for Christmas gifts, and indulge in seasonal treats like the aforementioned glühwein, which does much to keep us warm from the inside out.
A traditional Turkish breakfast consists of a cheesy potato dish called kremali patates, hard boiled eggs sprinkled with flaked red pepper, peppermint and thyme, meats, sliced cucumber and tomato, bread and butter dripping with honey and hot, sweet tea.
It’s autumn, but the sun is shining, so we dine on the balcony of our hotel. From here, we have a view out over the tumbling rooftops of the ancient, tourist-friendly heart of the old city, Sultanahmet, to the Black Sea beyond. Dozens of boats - cargo vessels, ferries and cruise ships - dot the sparkling harbour, while seagulls wheel and cry overhead.
For centuries, this city – which has been known by at least ten other names, including Byzantium and Constantinople – has been a major European trading port. It still is. Situated on the cusp of Asia and Europe, Istanbul is a designated 'alpha world city': an important node point in the global economic system with more than two millennia of UNESCO World Heritage listed history to explore.
When I ask museum director Diane Grobe to show me her favorite piece, she quickly indicates a gilt-framed painting of a wintery country scene. In the foreground is a wizened, bare-branched tree, while to its left, barren stone cottage pulls my attention into the snow-covered distance.
The work is by English artist Tom Keating, and is one of seventy or so fakes Grobe houses at the Faelschermuseum (Museum of Art Fakes) in a former wine cellar in Vienna's bustling Landstrasse district.
Wait a minute. Fakes? Yes, art fakes. This museum of creative criminality holds more than 70 artworks by forgers who made a living fooling art experts and ingénues alike.
When hardcourt bike polo first hit the tarmac in Australia in 2007, it was viewed as a sideshow novelty; the kind of 'sport' two-wheeling hobbyhorses with a penchant for all things bike whiled away their Sunday afternoons on, while the 'serious' cyclists donned head-to-toe lycra and clocked up the kilometres.
Three years on, and bike polo is played in every major city in Australia and New Zealand, and then some. It's played socially by mixed gender crews, and it's becoming a highly competitive sport in its own right, with its own acronymised governing body (the Australia Hardcourt Bike Polo Association, or AHBPA), national tournament schedule and rulebook.
History and modernity sit side by side in any European city, but especially in Berlin. On any given day, visitors can wonder at the grandeur of historical structures like the Brandenburg Tor (Brandenburg Gate) and the Reichstag, gain insight into the devastating impact of World Wars I and II at numerous museums and memorials, and immerse themselves in the city's internationally renowned art and design scene.
Berlin is a cyclist's city, so we make the locals and begin our day by renting bikes and cycling to the Eastside Gallery, where a 1.3km long memorial stretch of the art-strewn Berlin Wall still stands. Like Berlin itself, the Eastside Gallery is a work in progress, and is repainted regularly by both local and international artists.
“I hope you all like butter. We are going to be doing a lot of cooking with butter! Also garlic, and onions, and wine!” declares Frenchman Sébastien Piel, smiling broadly at the people clustered around his open plan kitchen in a warehouse tucked down a cobbled alleyway in the Melbourne suburb of Prahran.
We’re here to learn how to cook a three-course meal Piel calls ‘Rustic Fantastic’. It's the kind of traditional, slow cooked repas de fête, or feast, a French family might prepare for a leisurely Sunday lunch at their weekend home in the countryside in Normandy in northern France, where Piel grew up.
Ask any music-loving bedroom tinkerer what he likes to do in his spare time, and there’s a good chance he’ll tell you he‘s into circuit-bending. Last night he created an orgy of tortured sound in his bedroom with a bunch of evil aliens, and wired Barbie Karaoke until she screeched like a monkey on crack. What the f@*k?
Circuit-bending is the short circuiting of electronic devices to create sounds nature never intended. The domain of DIYers with little, if any, formal training in electronic theory and circuit design, circuit bending straddles the boundary between art and noise. Somewhere in the middle, there might be music. It’s like playing god with gadgets: you don’t know quite what’s going to happen, and you might just create a monster.
The future arrived at this year’s Australian wave kiting national championships
A fifty-strong crew of kitesurfers have blown in to Logan’s Beach in Warrnambool in Victoria’s south west for the Australian Kite Surfing Association (AKSA) Wave Kiting Nationals. They’re in the right spot: this is an unforgiving stretch of coast scattered with shipwrecks and revered for its swell. There’s just one essential ingredient missing: wind.
In fact, this windless, waveless calm is the state of play for nearly two of this competition’s three days. Them’s the breaks in this game ... But when the wind finally comes, it comes in full force, frogmarching towards the beach from the south west, blowing a bruised looking cloud bleeding sheets of blinding rain ahead of it. The kitesurfers know what’s behind the raincloud on the warpath: wind. And not just any old wind, but a cross-onshore sou ‘wester, coming at us at around 20 knots. They scramble to inflate their kites, lay out their boards, clamber into their wetsuits and harness up.
Lap up some five-star luxury at the Wolgan Valley Resort and Spa in the Blue Mountains, New South Wales
Since it opened eighteen months ago, the $125 million Wolgan Valley Resort & Spa has played high-class host to some of Australia – and the world’s – hottest property: Cate Blanchett and Andrew Upton, Oprah’s entourage, Jennifer Hawkins and Jake Wall, Zara Phillips. And those are just the people we’re allowed to mention.
Part of the Saudi-owned Emirates portfolio, it’s no surprise the Wolgan Valley is a retreat fit for future kings and queens... and me, your intrepid mX writer. I suffered people, I really did. After two days being treated like a princess at Wolgan Valley, I’m betting that when the newly hitched Duke and Duchess of Cambridge (a.k.a. Wills and Kate) visit Australia on their world tour this coming spring they’ll pop in to Wolgan Valley for a cup of tea and a lie down.
Discover the camels that draw a crowd and the Afghan settlers that led the way there in Marree, South Australia“Don’t stand too close!” warns Pete Chantler, looking over his troupe of dromedaries (one-hump camels) as a crisp desert dawn breaks in Marree, 685 kilometres north of Adelaide where the Outback anecdotally begins.
An impressive two or more metres high at the hump, Chantler’s 10 charges seem placid enough, but he is adamant they’re not to be trusted – and perhaps he’s right. Since arriving in Australia in 1860 to serve as the main mode of transport for the ill-fated Burke and Wills’ expedition into Terra Australis’ vast inland, they’ve gone feral. More than a million roam wild in our arid regions, and occasionally, Chantler and his best mate Greg Emmett catch one and race it in the Marree Camel Cup, held annually in July. It’s this sleepy desert town’s busiest weekend, and the first in a chain of camel races peppered throughout the Outback in the temperate winter months.
Be honest: when you first heard the term ‘cougar’, did you think it was any more than a silly buzzword that would soon buzz off? It was Canadian sex and relationship expert and social commentator Valerie Gibson – herself a woman with a penchant for younger men – who invented the term in her 2001 book ‘Cougar, A Guide for Older Women Dating Younger Men’. But back then, did we ever think it would stick?
No, we all tutted, pointed out how men had been doing the same thing for centuries, and expected it to burn itself out in a matter of weeks. Yet here we are, 10 years on, and we're hearing the term ‘cougar’ more than ever. T-shirts proclaim their wearer is ‘Cougarlicious’; out and proud coffee mugs tell the world ‘Cougars 4 Ever.’ In 2007, the cougar even made it into the Macquarie Dictionary.
Set your watch to island time up the Hawkesbury River in New South Wales
Home to a vibrant community of artists and writers, painters and potters, Dangar Island is just an hour and a half by road or rail, then boat, up the Hawkesbury River, from Sydney’s bustling heart. Its history precedes European settlement by hundreds, even thousands of years.
Once a birthing island frequented by the women of the Guringai tribe, today it’s the only residential island on the Hawkesbury River, with a permanent population of around 200, and a steady flow of visitors – day trippers and weekenders – who come to wind down on its 76 acres of bush and beach.
There are 27 different species of birds on Dangar Island, and it seems like they’re all outside my window, all at once, warbling and screeching a raucous welcome to a new day. But we’re here to relax, so we ignore them, and pretty soon the dawn chorus quiets down and we get back to the business of sleeping in. There are no cars on the island, which means there’s no morning traffic to interrupt our slumber, and by the time we finally arise morning has well and truly broken.
Heads, shoulders, knees and toesThere’s a scene in Kill Bill when Uma Thurman’s character, The Bride, awakens from a coma and struggles to get her paralysed feet moving*. And even though I’m not a kung fu expert or a ruthless, knife-wielding assassin I feel for The Bride, I really do. Because this is exactly how my feet feel after a few hours in heels: completely devoid of life.
For the choc-Olympian within
I’m not really the athletic type. My idea of working out is putting out the bins, and I’m breaking a sweat before I’ve even reached the gate. But if eating chocolate was an Olympic event, I’d win gold every time.
Imagine my delight, then, at finding a cosy and intimate cafe brewing strong coffee, baking fresh cakes and crafting an irresistible range of quality handmade chocolates on the premises. Comfortable chairs, funky beats and wallpaper featuring bambi lookalikes are bonuses. It’s the perfect place to train, and boy, have I been training.
‘I’m mad about birds,’ gushes our guide, Devon, as yet another well endowed specimen comes into view. His eyes glaze over and a dreamy grin spreads across his face. ‘Phoar! What a beauty!’ For a moment, I think we’ve lost him. But this man has the energy of Steve Irwin on steroids, and it’ll take more than a dose of ornithological excitement to get him off track.
Orni-what? Birds. Not womenfolk, but the two-winged, bundle of feathers kind, and here, at the Phinda Private Game Reserve in South Africa’s Kwazulu Natal, we’re spoilt for choice.
For the first time this year, the 12th annual World Solo 24 Hour MTB Championships travelled outside North America. It ripped up the track at Mt Stromlo, Canberra from 8th-10th October 2010, and Australia’s elite female 24hr champion, thirty-seven year old Jess Douglas was there. And by the end of the race Douglas was more than just there; she took out $5,000 in prize money and the title of World Solo Women's Elite 24HR MTB Champion 2010.
Paraic Grogan had never done any charity work before he went to Cambodia at the age of twenty-six in 2003; he wasn’t interested. He went to the capital city, Phnom Penh, because he’d heard it was a wild frontier city with no rules, and he thought it would be a cool place to live. He got the chaos he was after: there was a riot in his third week there when the locals burnt down the Thai Embassy.
He also got an eye opening introduction to the devastating impact of the wars, genocide, and totalitarianism still ricocheting through the lives of the Cambodian people today. Take your pick: the bombing and invasion of Cambodia during the Vietnam War; Pol Pot’s Khmer Rouge regime, which imposed a cruel system of slave labor, malnutrition, and executions resulting in the deaths of what some estimates place at three million people; the brutal Cambodian-Vietnam War that followed; or the years of UK and US funded controlled chaos – again at the hands of the Khmer Rouge - that came after.
It’s fair to say that death, life’s last great mystery, freaks us out. Rationalisation has vetoed death as a rung on the stepladder to heaven, the Promised Land, nirvana, or the reassurance of plain old samsara. The twenty first century has arrived, and it’s science, not religion, that we’re turning to in our quest for immortality.
It can take nature millions of years to make a diamond, but LifeGem, an American company on the make in Australia, can do it in less than twelve months. Synthetic diamonds are nothing new, but LifeGem are taking the technology to the edge by specialising in making diamonds from human remains.
Ruyad and Fasile are brothers, eleven and twelve years old. When I ask where they’re from I can tell it’s a question they get all the time; they probably know I’m going to ask it before I do. They’re ready. Our family is from Ethiopia, but we were born in Australia, Fasile says all matter of fact. They are smiling, happy, cheeky boys. They shout things at me from the field, playing up for my camera. Hey lady, watch this!
They’ve never been to the country their parents call home. The Collingwood Housing Estate in inner-eastern Melbourne, this is home. Three industrial era high-rises standing sentinel at either end of a large city block, an eight-laned river of traffic flowing up and down Hoddle Street on one side; Wellington Street reining it in on the other.
Each of the high-rises is twenty stories high, and each story holds ten flats: that’s 200 flats per building. Then there are the 350 or so walk-up flats packed into the land in-between, each home to between one and eight people: all up, the estate is home to around 3,000 residents. Most are of an ethnicity other than Anglo-Celtic, many are of refugee or asylum speaker origin. Vietnamese, Turkish, Chinese, Ethiopian, Somalian, Sudanese, Irani, Koorie.
I don’t know if you’ve been to Melbourne lately, but this city is a jaywalker’s paradise. Technically it’s illegal, but in reality, pedestrians rule the roads. Just loitering at the edge of the footpath will prompt oncoming drivers to give you an encouraging wave. Stepping out? Prepare to bask in the glorious sound of screeching brakes as every vehicle within a 100 metre radius skids to a halt.
This poses problems for any Melburnians foolhardy enough to leave city limits and travel to foreign lands, like Sydney. Last time I was in Sydney I made several ill-thought out attempts to cross the road and was hooted, yelled, and gesticulated back onto the pavement. One kindly older gentleman spoke very slowly and clearly as he told me, ‘We do things differently in the city, love’ and shooed me in the direction of the pedestrian crossing.
Let’s begin with a love story. Julie and Karl met at a party and became fast friends. They both liked boys and daydreamed they would meet wonderful men who would accept the special place of each in the other’s life. One day they kissed, and everything changed.
That was thirteen years ago. ‘We’d been sleeping together, just as friends, for two and a half years; we couldn’t bear to be apart. Then we realised we were in love. It was a surprise to us, but not to any of our friends!’ Julie laughs.
Now they’re engaged and thinking about setting a date for their wedding. They’re also considering how Karl’s live-in boyfriend Ben will be involved in the ceremony, not to mention Julie’s three significant others.
I’m an early bird. But don’t worry – I’m not one of those annoying types who might call at 8am on Sunday while you’re in the midst of a delicious early-morning dream to ask are you awake yet? And do you want to have coffee? Much as I might like to, I’ve learned that calling before 10am on the weekend is socially unacceptable, even if you have children. If the ten commandments got a modern day rewrite, this would top the list.
I don’t know quite how I turned out this way. In my teenage years the alarm clock was the enemy, the unwelcome herald of another day’s scholastic and parental control. In my twenties it meant work, work and more work.
These days, I don’t even need an alarm. My body clock has it all under control. Beaky twitters from outside the window? Check. Hazy light playing around the edge of the blinds? Check. Dawning awareness of the need to be somewhere or do something? Check. Good morning, sunshine.
Greg Walters makes his way through the hotel lobby with a satisfied grin on his face. It’s four in the morning, and less than an hour since he arrived and headed for room 101, where two women who checked in the previous evening awaited him. The guy behind the desk is looking at him sideways, but Walters doesn’t care. He’s used to it.
Walters, a butcher, has been coming and going from Melbourne’s hotels at odd times of the day and night for the past few years. He’s not a male escort, or a pimp, or a pervert; he’s a sperm donor.
He’s what’s termed a ‘known donor’, a man who donates to a mate or family member who’s found out he’s infertile, a single woman friend at the mercy of the man shortage, or, as is the case for the ladies in room 101, lesbian couples wanting to conceive, but lacking the obvious ingredient.
It’s a late November afternoon in Melbourne, and polo season is in full swing. The air is alive with the thwack of mallet on mallet and the baying of an excited crowd. Take him down! C’mon, be aggressive! I hope you’re gonna clean that up! Kill! Show us your - you get the picture.
Clearly these are not your average polo fanciers. But then, this is not your average polo match; there’s not a safari suit, a picnic hamper or a blade of grass in sight, let alone an actual horse. This is day two of the inaugural Australian Hardcourt Bicycle Polo Championships, the fastest growing urban bike sport around.
Sometimes life can seem like one big, long hangover. Especially at this time of year, when celebratory champagne, beers around the barbeque and living it up large on New Year’s Eve are all in a day’s – not to mention night’s - drinking for most of us.
But a growing body of teetotalers in our midst is choosing not to indulge in that most acceptable of modern poisons: alcohol. They’re flying in the face of recent research showing that Australian women are big binge drinkers, knocking back, on average, eight standard drinks per session.
Used to be that you had to head for the hills to find gold; these days you need look no further than your friendly neighbourhood vending machine. If you live in Frankfurt, Germany that is, where the world’s first bullion vending machines were installed earlier this year.
First sausages, now gold. Investors can satisfy their fiscal cravings by purchasing gold in pre-packaged one, five or ten gram bars that come in a metal case labeled ‘My golden treasure’. The $5 Canadian Maple Leaf coin and $15 Australian Kangaroo coin are also on offer. Prices are updated every fifteen minutes, and fluctuate at around 20% more than market price. Ker-ching!
It’s an overcast Queen’s Birthday weekend in Victoria, and I’m at an event that would tickle her majesty’s equine fancy - the Melbourne Three Day Event (M3DE) a top notch nag’s get together on the Australian equestrian calendar.
It’s Day Two, Cross Country, and horses and riders of all skill levels, from pony club hopefuls to bonafide Olympians, are traversing the custom designed and built course; 5.8km of 26 jumps multi-element jumps. An interested crowd of fresh faced, well to do country types looks on; men in stockmen’s coats and hats, women in jeans and designer gumboots, and jodhpur-clad, leather-booted teenage girls a plenty.
I’m just grateful I’m on the other side of the fence. A horse and rider round the corner and gallop full tilt down the straight, heading for a 1.2m high jump made from logs of wood stacked one on top of the other, chopping up the grass and making the dirt fly. They seem as one; the rider leaning into the horse, using weight and voice, perhaps a subtle pull on the reins, to communicate speed and direction, pace and reach.
Immerse yourself in Thailand's spiritual soul with a visit to the city of Chiang Mai, Thailand
High on a hilltop at the end of a curling mountain road, far above the glitter and smog of the city below, sits Chiang Mai’s must-see temple, Wat Phrathat Doi Suthep. I share my visit with hundreds of visitors: curious international tourists, devout lay-Buddhists who have made the pilgrimage to walk the 309 steps up to the temple, and its keepers; the serene, shaven-headed, orange-clad monks who live and worship within its gilt edged pagodas and walls.
Located in the foothills of the Himalayan Mountains some 700km from Bangkok, at 40km2 Chiang Mai’s metro area is not even a tenth of the size of Bangkok’s, but it has nearly as many temples, or Wat. They sit at street corners and emerge from leafy enclaves, and are particularly enchanting at dusk, when the monks chant their evening prayers.
“Where do doggies go when they die?” My six-year-old niece, Stella, asked me this question a few weeks ago after the death of her beloved family pooch, Buster. After a hasty, huddled conference, her parents and I told her Buster had gone to roam the big dog park in the sky. Stella pondered this for a moment, then hit us with a barrage of follow up questions.
“So why are we burying him in the garden? Will his bowl be there? Who’s going to pick up his doo-doo?” And poignantly, “Who’s going to make sure he’s a good doggy?” We did our best, skirting the questions with typically agnostic flakiness, but we were woefully unprepared. Not only had I not known what to say, I hadn’t really known what to do with Buster himself. I decided to look into it.
I’ve been unwrapping online purchases, and I’m a little ruffled. Frustrated. Irritated, even. A little resentful, a little angry. Okay, I’m enraged. Enraged! It’s not because the bar mixer doesn’t look like the picture, or the special lash-lubing mascara is dry, or the CDs are scratched.
It’s because it’s taken me close to an hour to infiltrate the packaging. I felt as though I was playing a never ending game of pass the parcel, except I was the only one playing, and I already knew what treasure lay within. Please don’t ask me what the point was, because I don’t have an easy answer, and I might just bite your head off.
But I’m not alone. I am in fact suffering from wrap rage, defined by up to the minute online dictionary wordspy.com as ‘extreme anger caused by product packaging that is difficult to open or manipulate’. Exactly. I know that somewhere out there, a machine is laughing at me.
Anything that has to invent new words in order to explain itself should be viewed with suspicion. And interest. Suspicion because we’ve obviously made it this far without the word, why do we need it now? Interest because, well, there must be something going on here.
The word: polyamory. The meaning: having more than one loving, intimate relationship at a time. Not to be confused with polygamy (so Mormon) swinging (so fifties), or sleeping around (so so), polyamory - also termed polyfidelity, or poly - is the new relationship buzzword, code for having your cake and eating it too.
Take Tom. Tom has been happily married to Cath for nine years, but spends two nights a week with Lucy, who is in turn married to Paul. Paul has been involved with Christina for eighteen months. Lucy is also in love with Martin, who doesn’t have another partner, but he’s happy to share Lucy.
Eat, drink and shop your way through Vietnam’s ancient trading port of Hoi An
“You buy more? You buy more?” variations on this refrain are as familiar as strange dreams on a sleeper train to the traveling ear in many parts of the world, but for once I’m not feigning deafness or trying to slip away into the crowd. I’m in a made to measure tailor’s shop in Hoi An on Vietnam’s South Central Coast, and I’m seriously tempted.
Hoi An has long been famous for its commerce. In the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries it was an important trading port for a medley of Chinese, Dutch, Portuguese, Spanish, Indian and French sea merchants, and from the seventh to the tenth centuries its wealthy Champa residents controlled the regional spice trade.
Melbourne artist Ross Watson laughs as he remembers the time he thought his most famous patron, Sir Elton John, was about to blow his top. "When he came to the gallery I'd just had an exhibition and it had sold out. He was flicking through a portfolio and saying 'Well, where's this one? And where's this one?"'
"Finally he came to one that I'd kept. I was relieved; I could show him something! But I had to tell him 'This is the painting I've kept because my accountant advised me to a keep a painting from each series for my superannuation'."
"Then I looked at Elton and he had the blank look of Edina from Ab Fab on his face and I thought 'Ross, he doesn't understand anything about superannuation!' But he heard what I said and seemed to respect it.
Many a lost and lonely soul has departed this mortal coil by committing suicide, figuring, as Kurt Cobain did when he quoted Neil Young in the world’s most over-analyzed suicide note that it’s better to burn out than fade away. But self-annihilation at its most literal is not the only way to put an end to it all - there is also fake death, an increasingly popular coping mechanism for those that have not so much made a go of life as turned it into a festering pile of self destructive shite. Both are tinged with an unhealthy dose of desperation, but if suicide is for the pained and cowardly pessimist, fake death is for the brave and cunning daredevil optimist. Provided you really mean it, it’s not that hard to kill yourself. But getting away with faking your own death? Now that takes smarts.
Never one to mince words, I recently asked some baby making friends if they would be putting their wee man under the knife. Slicing his salami, chopping his sausage, paring his package. They looked at me with incredulity, as though I had the very same part of the male appendage growing out of my forehead, before patiently explaining that circumcision is a cruel and barbaric practice akin to grating your eyeball then dressing it with a squeeze of lemon. Except worse.
The Royal Australasian College of Physicians’ official stance backs them up, stating that "there is no medical indication for routine neonatal circumcision." I take their point. It is a tad barbaric. But I worry for him. Or, more precisely, for his future self, the one that wants to use his penis for more than pre sexual self gratification and whizzing all over the place as soon as his nappies come off. I prefer my men cut. Surely his future women will feel the same? I asked twenty female friends what, if any, preference they have for penises of the cut or uncut variety.
Melbourne is a cyclist’s city. With its flat, well made streets and extensive network of on and off road bike paths, there’s always something on the go. For the past six months or so Sunday afternoons at the Carlton gardens has seen an ever expanding bunch of bike enthusiasts, also known as the Melbourne Bicycle Polo Club, going head to head with chicken runs and shoulder charges. They’re playing hard court bicycle polo, the fastest growing urban bike sport around.
Bicycle polo has been wheeling its way around the world since an enterprising Irishman by the name of Mecredy invented it in 1890. Not long after, it was being played by the British army and the Maharajas in Imperial India, and England was losing the first international to Ireland 5-10 at the Crystal Palace in London. Played this way, on grass and in uniforms it’s similar to horse polo, and it’s an internationally competitive sport.
Darren Ma is feeling a bit nervous. This seems an understatement from a man who is tied up like a sheet bend knot - his torso between his legs, his shoulders hooked behind his knees, and his head dangerously close to his backside. On the other side of the room, Ma’s main rival Dave Reid is being manipulated. One foot planted firmly on the ground, the other slices through the air and hovers impossibly above head height. His head, just for the record, is facing in the wrong direction, turning away from his body in a spine crunching twist.
“Nice legs Dave,” calls 44 year-old Ma from firefly, the term for the yoga pose he is practicing. Reid grins and throws a relaxed comment back. Elsewhere in the room, 5 yogis (male practitioners of yoga) and 22 yoginis (female practitioners of yoga) stretch and flex, putting themselves through their paces in preparation for three crucial minutes on stage in competition for the ultimate prize – not enlightenment, but the title of Australian Men's or Women's Bikram Yoga Champion.
Indigenous people comprise two per cent of the total Australian population. But in 2006 they made up 24 per cent of the prison population, and are, on average, 12 times more likely to be imprisoned than their non-Indigenous counterparts. In some states, such as South and Western Australia, the figures are far higher.
Most serve sentences of five years or fewer, and more than three quarters - well above the national average of 58 per cent - can be expected to re-offend. Such gross over-representation of Indigenous people in prisons is not unique to Australia. In New Zealand, Maori make up 15 per cent of the populace and 50 per cent of the prison population, while in Canada, 3.3 per cent identify as Indian, Inuit or Metis, yet comprise 22 per cent of people behind bars.
For most of us, pinball is a machine tucked away in the corner down at the local, a whiz-bang-pop reminder of a youth spent in gaming arcades. For others, it’s a home-based hobby of machine collecting, maintenance and loving restoration.
American based organising body the International Flipper Pinball Association (IFPA) has a database of 960+ players from all over – the United States and United Kingdom, Germany, Japan, Sweden, and Brazil, to name a few - who compete at one or more of 70+ annual tournaments for the prestigious title of World's Greatest Pinball Player. Current IFPA President (and world no.6) Josh Sharpe says that on any given weekend, there is usually at least one tournament being held somewhere in the world where people can compete.
The IFPA oversees the World Pinball Player Rankings (WPPR), which issues monthly rankings based on the results of the previous month’s tournaments, and at year’s end determines who will be crowned the year’s reigning pinball king – or queen – although most of the pinball hardcore are men, women are welcome to compete.
Monsoon season is in full, wet swing when I arrive in India one hot Keralan night. As I descend from the plane the darkness wraps around me like a warm, wet blanket, and a distinctive scent - part animal, part vegetable, part mineral - pervades my nostrils. I am here for a month to journey up India's South West coast, from Trivandrum to Mumbai. This is my first visit to India, and I have received so many different pieces of advice that my idea of this ancient land and what lies ahead for me is a melting pot of excitement, fear, anticipation and dread. Coupled with this is my awareness that all travel is ultimately a journey of self-discovery, and that India is the travel destination of self transformation par excellence. "It's not a holiday," I was sagely told more than once, "it's an experience."
My first impressions of India are madly multi-sensory. Men shouting and horns blaring, traffic roaring everywhere. The feel of monsoon rain on my skin, moving from gentle patter to whirling assault in seconds. Hot creamy chai and sweet lassi slipping over my tongue and down my throat like liquid velvet. The smell of fresh curry simmering on a cooking stove. And the sights - women in brightly coloured saris making their morning puja, sprinkling mandalas of white camphor powder over cow dung swept hearths. Porters at the train station dressed in bright red lungis, weaving their way through the crowds with towers of luggage atop their sturdy heads. A field of pink lotuses, rising from the mud. Cows lazing in the middle of the road, diverting the traffic and adding to the ordered chaos that is life in India.
Lorne, the third major stop outside Melbourne on the Great Ocean Road, is a huge drawcard in the summer months. Its beachfront shopping strip, al fresco restaurants and stunning scenery charm locals and visitors alike. Camping grounds fill with families indulging in the great Australian summer, hotels are booked to capacity and the entire town stays up late, relaxing in the wakefulness that comes with a hot Victorian night. I had a tip-off a few months ago that makes Lorne worth visiting year round - one from a local, too, the kind that shouldn’t be ignored: “You must go to Qdos,” the woman said as her husband busied himself behind his newspaper in a cafe on Lorne’s Mountjoy Parade. “It’s an art gallery set in a sculpture garden. And cake!” she said, her eyes meeting mine. “They have wonderful cake.” So we followed her directions up into the hills to Allenvale Road. And what a tip-off. Qdos was more than the satisfaction of a sweet tooth – it was the highlight of our trip down the Great Ocean Road.
Death, life’s last great mystery, freaks us out. For the modern masses, rationalisation has vetoed death as a rung on the stepladder to heaven, the promised land, nirvana, or the reassurance of plain old samsara. Its science, not religion, that we’re turning to in our quest for immortality.
It’s all pretty sci-fi. But hey, when you look at it, so is what happens to the average (dead) Joe: a body is preserved with chemicals and encased in a decay resistant coffin reinforced with agents such as fibreglass, steel and plastic. No doubt anyone who has experienced the death of a loved one will agree that we can better accept and come to terms with death by seeing, touching and spending time with the body of a loved one post mortem. But do we really need to pump a body full of preservatives in order to make it look as life like as possible for as long as possible?